It’s perfectly okay for humans to practice yoga with goats — but not with sloths, apparently.
A wild animal park center in Madeira Florida got a rude awakening earlier this month when an online petition drive launched by animal rights activists demanded that the center cease allowing yoga students to handle its captive two-toed sloths as part of the 45-minute yoga classes held weekly on its premises
Organizers of the petition drive — which quickly gathered nearly 30,000 signatures worldwide — say the yoga classes are not only exploiting the vulnerable sloths commercially but also placing them in physical, even mortal, danger.
The animal park originally resisted pressure from the group, which is affiliated with PETA and other animal rights organizations. But as the negative publicity, including hostile emails and social media postings, grew, the animal park decided to cancel the classes.
Yoga activists say they will still hold classes at the park, and in full view of the animals while they remain inside their confinement areas.
But the cuddly hands-on version of “Sloth Yoga” is dead– at least for now.
Organizers of the classes at the zoo say they have no idea what the fuss is all about. They rescued the two-toed sloths which were near death last year and nursed them back to health.
Apparently, their humanitarianism made them feel entitled to exploit the sloths
Two-toed sloths are docile creatures that sleep most of the day, but zoo workers say they enjoy interacting with humans. They hug and smile when touched, for example.
But animal rights activists say that episodic contact with humans in a yoga class environment is highly disruptive and even dangerous to sloths.
Yoga students are often hyperactive, they note and can induce unhealthy physical reactions in sloths
And what looks like a positive sloth response to humans is a sheer consequence — a weaker mammals response to stronger ones, activists say. In fact, sloths hug humans just as they would hug a tree. It’s just a spontaneous primal response.
The fierce protests from animal rights activists ae somewhat surprising and some would say hypocritical. Goat Yoga, which features even more extensive interactions with humans, has become a nationwide craze.
While PETA says it disapproves of the practice, it has not called for it to end.
There may well be a difference: Goats are fam animals and have regular contact with humans daily. Sloths are confined to zoos and as a rule, only specially trained handlers feed and care for them
But the basic idea in the two cases — and in others, including “Sheep Yoga” — is the same. Animals normally left to themselves are being trained — and even bred — to serve humans with human enjoyment and commercial gain the goal.
And for many animal rights activists, that invariably smacks of exploitation.
In fact, PETA has also taken a public position against zoos allowing children to swim with young tiger cubs, sloths and even alligators for much the same reason. The young animals’ development is being distorted and their survival, even within the zoo environment, may be compromised, PETA says.
Representatives of the animal centers are defending themselves against efforts by PETA to have their animal-human swim program — which is enormously popular with zoo visitors — shut down.
In their view, allowing humans to better understand the lives of wild animals up close through hands-on is educational, and in the long run, serves the cause of conservation.
But not when those humans are yogis. For now, the sloths and other animals will have to stay in their cages, left to gawk as humans twist and stretch nearby.